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Thermal ribbons can be confusing at first and often customers end up buying ribbons when it is not necessary (costing more money than needed!). Understanding the purpose of a thermal ribbons will help to understand what they are and if you need them. This will make all the difference.

Check out our guide

Avoid costly mistakes! 3 things you must know about thermal ribbons” written by our ribbon specialist to select the best ribbon for your label.


A thermal ribbon is a roll of ink (like toner for the old fax machines) that is heated by your label printer. Once heated, ink then transfers to your label (hence the print method is often called thermal transfer). In 2018, thermal transfer printing accounted for 80% of global sales (across all printer brands) and is still very high in demand. Source VDC Data

Thermal ribbons come in various sizes to match your label, as well as different grades to achieve different print objectives such as abrasion resistance or chemical resistance (see our Ribbons page here for more information on ribbon types). Be careful when selecting your thermal ribbons – Japanese grades typically produce the best print and protect your label printer parts.


Thermal ribbons have a unique relationship with your label and application. Particularly if you have a permanent print requirement, or a synthetic label, it goes without saying that a ribbon will be required.

Here are a few quick factors for when you should use thermal ribbons: 

Labels that have a moderate shelf life Yes, you need thermal ribbons. Common applications like date coding or use by dates on food are best printed with a ribbon. Thermal direct can be considered however the storage conditions are very important (as direct thermal labels can fade or turn yellow when not stored correctly).
Permanent identification Yes, you need thermal ribbons. There are some direct thermal synthetics available on the market now, but they still don’t compare to the longevity you will achieve with ribbons (and the labels are quite expensive too!)
Labels that have a short shelf life No, you don’t need ribbons. Sometimes customers are oversold to purchase a printer with ribbons for freight labels – this is an overkill for your application. Short shelf life labels should use thermal direct.
Print resistant to harsh conditions Yes, you need thermal ribbons. Thermal ribbons are resistant to harsh chemicals and outdoor conditions – for this type of application, we recommend you test the ribbon and label before committing to volume with your label maker.
High speed print including flexible packaging lines Yes, you need thermal ribbons. Thermal ribbons specialise in high speed release particularly for flexible packaging.

If you are unsure, it is best to ask an expert – take advantage of our barcode gurus and contact us for your free assessment here.


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Contact your label printer specialist on 1300 792 202 to see how we can transform your labelling experience.

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